Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech

Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech
© Anna Moneymaker

Maryland Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinThe Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times The Hill's Morning Report - Can Bernie recapture 2016 magic? MORE and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Senate buzz grows for Abrams after speech electrifies Dems MORE, both Democrats, asked Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinHuawei CEO: Daughter's arrest was 'politically motivated' Top Chinese official heading to Washington for trade talks The Hill's Morning Report - Trump faces mounting challenges to emergency declaration MORE on Tuesday to review a Russian oligarch’s investment in a company that runs part of the state’s election system.

In a letter, Cardin and Van Hollen asked Mnuchin to scrutinize venture fund AltPoint Capital’s investment in ByteGrid through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). The panel, chaired by the Treasury secretary, reviews foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses for national security risks.

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The senators’ letter comes as federal and state law enforcement officials prepare to fight attempts by foreign nations to influence or hack the upcoming midterm elections.

“Access to these systems could provide a foreign person with ties to a foreign government with information that could be used for intelligence or other purposes adverse to U.S. interests,” Cardin and Van Hollen wrote.

“We know that our elections are under threat from foreign cyberattacks and disinformation efforts. Our democratic process can also be manipulated through foreign investment in elections infrastructure.”

AltPoint Capital holds an ownership stake in ByteGrid, which hosts Maryland’s voter registration system, candidacy and election management system, online ballot delivery system and unofficial election night results website. AltPoint’s largest investor is Vladimir Potanin, who is reportedly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Maryland officials have expressed fears that their state’s election system could be compromised through the Russia connection to ByteGrid. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) began an investigation of the firm hours after special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“Even the appearance of the potential for bad actors to have any influence on our election infrastructure could undermine public trust in the integrity of our election system,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last month.

Annie Eissler, chief marketing officer for ByteGrid, told Maryland officials that the company’s investors “have no involvement or control in company operations,” according to The Baltimore Sun.

Cardin and Van Hollen asked Mnuchin to begin a CFIUS review of Potanin’s connection to ByteGrid and intervene if it poses a threat to U.S. national security or critical infrastructure.

The committee has blocked or effectively killed several planned foreign acquisitions of U.S. tech companies, primarily by Chinese firms, during President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE’s first term. The panel has received bipartisan support from lawmakers concerned about the country’s ability to stave off espionage and intellectual property theft from U.S rivals.

Congress boosted CFIUS’s powers in a massive defense spending bill that Trump is expected to sign within days. The bill expands the scope of deals that CFIUS can inspect and block to investments touching critical infrastructure, which can include technology used to conduct elections.